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Tales from Dudo's Norman History
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  1. Normandy Backdrop
  2. The Work of Dudo and What It Is About
  3. Viking Warfare
  4. Maps and Links
  5. Literature on the Normans

First Part


Here are stories from the Norman History (Gesta Normannorum) by Dudo of St. Quentin, a Norman, clerical chronicler serving the Norman court. He wrote the book in obscure and clumsy Latin ca. 1015 AD. Parts are retold here, and also simplified. - ©: Tormod Kinnes


Normandy Backdrop

After the fall of Rome in the 400s, Franks became the dominant ethnic group in the area. They built several monasteries, and replaced the barbarism of the region with the civilization of the Carolingian Empire. Towards the end of the 900s, Viking raids devastated the region, until the French king Charles the Simple handed over Normandy to a Viking, Rolv the Ganger (Rollo) from More in 911.

Normandy takes its name from Viking invaders. They were called "men of the North", or "Northmen". The word "Norman" comes from it.

The gruesome Viking Age lasted for about 250 years, from 793 to 1066, to present some marked dates. In 793 Scandinavian vikings pillaged Lindisfarne in North-East England. But six years earlier they had raided Wessex according to records. And already in 794 they sacked the monastery at Jarrow. Vikings also raided the Scottish Isles, and returned home with the plunder. Later Viking raids establish settlements on the East coast, northwest Scotland, Ireland (Dublin), Wales, Northumbria, and Manx. But in 1066 the army of Harald Hardrada lost a great battle of London, and that was more or less the end of Viking warfare on a massive scale.

The extremely mobile Vikings were slave-takers and slave-traders too. Dublin was once one of their markets. [Brown 1969:9]. European countries were terrorised.

In 841 Rouen and Jumièges in Normandy were severely damaged by raiders. An expedition in 845 went up the Seine and reached Paris. The raids were carried out primarily in the summer. After 851 the Viking raiders began to stay in the lower Seine valley for the winter, burning and looting. And in 911 the Viking leader Rollo forced Charles the Simple to sign the Treaty of Saint- Clair-sur-Epte. In it, Charles gave Rouen and the area of modern Haute-Normandie to Rollo. In exchange Rollo pledged vassalage to Charles in 940 and agreed to be baptized. Rollo also vowed to guard the estuaries of the Seine from further Viking attacks.

With a series of conquests, the territory of the Duchy of Normandy gradually expanded. Many buildings were pillaged, burned, or greatly damaged by the Viking raids, but no city was completely destroyed. Yet monasteries and abbeys, where treasures had been stored, were destroyed. For all that, what Rollo and his successors did, brought about rapid recovery (!).

Among the Scandinavians who colonised Normandy, were a few Swedes. In some areas the Scandinavians established themselves rather densely. The merging of the Scandinavian and native people contributed to one of the most powerful feudal states of Western Europe. Historians have few sources of information for this period of Norman history. Dudo of Saint-Quentin is one of four such sources.

Normandy map

Rollo and the Dukes after Him

After 911, the Viking Rollo (Norwegian: Gange-Rolf) was the first Norman count of Rouen. His successors were called Dukes of Normandy. These dukes increased the strength of Normandy, although they had to observe the superiority of the king of France. The Norman dukes struck their own money and leveled taxes. They raised their own armies and appointed most of the prelates of their archdiocese. They were practically independent of the French king, but they did pay homage to each new monarch.

The dukes maintained relations with foreign kings, especially the king of England. Emma, sister of the Norman Richard II, married King Ethelred II of England. Norman dukes appointed family members to positions as counts and viscounts. They held on to some territory in Scandinavia and the right to enter those lands by sea. The Norman dukes also ensured that their vassal lords did not get too powerful. The Norman dukes thus had more authority over their own domains than other territorial princes in Northern France.

William's conquest of England in 1066 opened up more land to the dukes. The aristocracy was composed of a small group of Scandinavian men, while the majority of the Norman political leaders were of Frankish descent.

A curiosity: Dukes of Normandy took their last name from where they signed the Peace Treaty in 911 AD in Saint Clair sur Epte. So the St. Clair or Sinclair families stem from Norman dukes.


The prowess of the Norman rulers made them go for tyranny along with bulwarking large parts of French territory against their "cousins" from up north: looting pirates, robbers and marauding bandits and settlers on various islands.

From the later 900s northern France stood up again, in part as origin of later medieval civilization and the modern world. Christendom was relegated to the realm of theory rather than harsh political fact. Hungarians were abroad, a safe stronghold was needed, and in Normandy was protection. Normans buildt strongholds.

At the same time they generated monastic schools of northern France, advocated Greek learning and art, and also simplified Roman cathedral architecture into so-called Romanesque. Some of the Norman churches still remain.

Certain developments can be distinguished - economic prosperity, ecclesiastical revival, the establishment of a new aristocracy - remarkable independency - [Brown 1969:14, 24, 29].

One contemporary chronicler wrote: "The world. . . was clothing itself in a white robe of churches" [Brown 1969:14].

Young descendants were bred and trained for war, land-hungry. They broke out of the confines of Western Europe altogether to take Jerusalem . . . in an orgy of bloodshed [Brown 1969:14; see also Parker 1986:140-8]. The Normans:

  • Were adopters and adapters par exellence. Normans became sea-farers, traded and prospered commercially, as well as had a great period of emigration in the 1000s AD. Marks: Dynamic energy and assimilative prowess, and in the end they adapted themselves out of existence [cf. Brown 1969:28].

  • Had their lion's share in all the achievements and developments of the eleventh century, and most notably by their own conquests, which formed a major part of the whole physical expansion of Western Europe at this time [Brown 1969:15].

  • Made Normandy one of the most powerful states in Latin Christendom and the most potent feudal principality in France. Normandy was built up from ruins. Viking influence and customs remained strong. Normans came from Scandiavia and colonized too. Rollo and his successors, as rulers of Normandy, got the title of count, valuable rights and widespread domains [Brown 1969:15-6 and 20-23].

  • Conquered the kingdom of England in 1066.

  • Rode out into Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

  • Conquered southern Italy and Sicily - a largely more remarkable chain of feats than the English enterprise. All of southern Italy was under Norman domination [Brown 1969:15-6].

  • Became "the most dazzling examples of private enterprise the medieval and modern world has witnessed" [Brown 1969:15]

  • Mixed piety with violence, became pilgrimage knights.

  • Exploited southern Europe by near irresistible military prowess. Quote: "Before them, said a Lombard prince, the enemy were 'as meat to the devouring lion'" [Brown 1969:16].

  • Had "near-incredible success, ruled in Oriental splendour over the richest, the most powerful, the most cultured and technically the most advanced state in all Latin Christendom" [Brown 1969:16].

  • Became the war-seeking, military aristocracy endorsing both knighthood and a cult of violence in a spirit of expansionist adventurism filled with individual participants, unscrupulously bold.

  • Loved fighting and Mediterranean riches, came flocking to southern Italy, cantering "through fields and gardens . . . happy and joyful on their horses . . . to seek their fortunes. Some had enormous success, and also papal blessings and recognition. When one Norman died he was described as "the terror of the world" upon his epitaph. Another was anointed at Palermo king of Sicily, Apulia and Calabria, and as such he, and his descendants after him, remained [Brown 1969:17].

  • Were in the vanguard of the First Crusade, with a powerful contingent from Normandy and another, even more powerful, from Norman Italy and Sicily . . . Jerusalem was taken in 1098 [Brown 1969:18-9].

  • Norman lordship was established at Antioch, which characteristically became the strongest and best governed of the Latin states of Outremer.

  • The 1000s was in many ways the Norman century, and by the end of it a chain of Norman states had been established from the Atlantic to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, all strong, all efficient, and all ruled by a potent mixture [of] new feudal customs, and dynamic energy [Brown 1969:19].

Hard Times

Staggering Norman Exploits

The historian Reginald A. Brown tells how Normandy was once again rebuilt, now in the hands of Norman patrons. They took on Frankish manners and became elegantly cloaked, for some of them looted southern Italy and Sicily. They took it out of the hands of Moslems and Greeks who had settled there, and had the blessings of the pope.

Normans rode out into Italy and took over the better half of it, and set up a Norman dynasty of kings with Palermo as the capital.

They took over literature that the Arabs had preserved, including Greek classics - forgotten books by Aristotle. Normans brought such treasures and formerly flourishing Roman building skills to Normandy too. They took manuscripts with them to their many monastic churches and preserved many. This in the long run paved the way or eased the way for the Renaissance.

Before things came that far, they used their management skills to fortify their domains, and did more than merely copy Roman architecture: they forged their own style from it. It was stouter, more astute, and much stands to this day. Many memorable buildings in France, England, and Southern Italy are comprised under the heading "Norman" architecture, which is the same as Romanesque. The Tower of London is one such building, the Lincoln Cathedral another, and many more. The massive buildings reflect the needs of the time to withstand hostile attacks. [See Woodward 1965:1-25]

Many Were Subjected to Normans

Normans from Rollo off had built up Normandy (again), skilled in administration, drafting commoners to labour under them, and skilled in warfare. Many of the Normans left Normandy to take land in Southern Italy and other places. Well-trained Norman knights were feared a lot. Members of de Hauteville family got lots of lands in Italy by such prowess, and took over Sicily too. And then they became rulers of southern Italy too, for many centuries.

Normans were not all integrated even if they took up Frankish language and a lot such customs. Their Viking blood turned adventurous, nay, romantic, and naïve chivalry came from them too, and not just feudalism.

Maps and links

For the record: The Danish do not seem have much of a case when they want Rollo to be a Dane. But the Norwegian viking Rolv Ganger might have settled in Normandy. That is what medieval sources say. They include several Icelandic sagas and the Chronicle of the Kings of Norway. Another interesting source is The Orkneyingar Saga, which is considered a reliable saga too, as far as sagas go. In all these sources, the ancestry of Gange-Rolv is traced to Norway.

The matter is exposed and more sources are cited and referred to on the Rolv Ganger page.


Tales from Dudo of St Quentin's Norman History, Gesta Normannorum, Literature  

Barthelemy, Ch. Histoire de la Normandie ancienne et moderne. Tours:Mame, 1862.

Brown, Reginald Allen. The Normans and the Norman Conquest. London: Constable, 1969.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, reteller. The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: The Gods of the Vikings. Reprint ed. London: Penguin, 1993.

Crouch, David. The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007.

Dolley, Michael. Anglo-Norman Ireland 1100-1318. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1972.

Freeman, Edward. The History of the Norman Conquest of England. London: University of Chicago, 1974.

Gibberd, Frederich. The Architecture of England from Norman Times to the Present Day. 4th ed. London: Architectural Press, 1962.

Graham-Campbell, James, and Dafydd Kidd. The Vikings. London: British Museum Publications, 1980.

Grant, Michael. Myths of the Greeks and Romans. New York: Meridian/Penguin, 1995.

Hødnebø, Finn, og Hallvard Magerøy, eds. Norges kongesagaer. Vols 1-4. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1979.

Kapelle, William. The Norman Conquest of the North: The Region and Its Transformation, 1000-1135. London: Croom Helm, 1979.

Lifshitz. Felice, tr. Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum: An English Translation. (History of the Normans). ORB Online Library (Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies), 1996. ——— Dudo wrote this history to legitimise the Norman rule of Normandy. It tells how the a group of Vikings conquered parts of France, and eventually came to rule the area. The work is available in Latin and in English on the ORB of Medieval Studies. Parts of Lifshitz’s translation-in-progress are called rough still.

Loud, Graham A., and Alex Metcalfe, eds. The Society of Norman Italy. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Marongiu, Antonio. Byzantine, Norman, Swabian and later Institutions in Southern Italy. Collected Studies. London: Variolum Reprints, 1972.

Matthew, Donald. The Norman Monasteries and Their English Possessions. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Renaud, Jean. Les Vikings et la Normandie. Rennes: Ouest-France, 1989.

Rowley, Trevor. The Norman Heritage: 1055-1200. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.

Simonnæs, Per. Normannerne kommer. Oslo: Grøndahl Dreyer, 1994.

Steenstrup, Johannes. Normannerne, bd 1. Copenhagen: Klein, 1876.

Woodward, E. A History of England. London: University Paperback / Methuen, 1965.

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